Read the series so far.
Listen sometime to an NFL or college football coach after they have just won a Super Bowl or national championship. Almost inevitably you will get some excitement about this achievement in their lives and how much it means to the players, etc. But that interview always seems to come back to this theme: “that was great, but it means that the coaches who didn’t make the playoffs have had this much time to get a head start on next season.” It’s a never-ending process.
On a much smaller scale I go through this each week with sermon prep. I study, pray, meditate, study some more, and form a message (hopefully from God) from the text for the week. I stand up Sunday and deliver a word from the Lord, then go home exhausted. Sunday night we do it again. Monday is a day of rest, and the cycle begins again on Tuesday.
Don’t get me wrong—I love it. I plan on doing it until God calls me home or I am not physically able. But it is an ongoing cycle. The same thing can be said of the testing of our faith. You experience a situation that tests, stretches, pounds, and pushes your faith and you emerge with your faith stronger for it. You inwardly smile at the spiritual victory, believing that you have some time to bask in the progress you have made. But when you lift up your eyes, instead of a calm sea, you see another wave crashing and racing toward you.
There is no time to rejoice. There is no time to let your guard down. You must anchor yourself and brace against the onslaught or your risk losing even the ground that you gained during the last wave.
This is the situation Abram finds himself in. He has been to Egypt and failed miserably. He endangered his wife in the process. But he heads home, renews worship with Yahweh, and handles the conflict with Lot very graciously. He has grown and come out of this wave upright. But there is no time for rest. His faith is going to be tested again. God wants to grow Abram. He wants to change him, stretch him, mold him, and make him into the man of rock solid faith that will be necessary to navigate the days ahead.
Let’s look at a few principles from Abram’s experience in Genesis chapter 14.
God’s people will face obstacles to their faith (Genesis 14:1-12).
In these verses we read of five kings, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, who had served Chedorlaomer for 12 years. In the 13th year they rebelled, and year later Chedorlaomer attacked, conquering every city along the way to confront the rebels.
When the battle commences, there is no contest. The five rebelling kings flee and are soundly defeated. Brutal rape, assault, looting, killing, and other horrible acts would have taken place. This is a mess. The victors take away everything they want, including Lot and his family (who at this time are living in Sodom). This creates the test of Abram’s faith.
Yes, much ink could be (and has been) spent on what Lot is doing living in Sodom. But the focus here is on Abram. What is Abram going to do? Lot is family. I would be tempted to write off Lot as an “acceptable loss” who brought his fate on himself. But he is part of the family of promise. What does true faith look like in this situation?
2. God’s people can trust in His protection and provision in the midst of facing those obstacles (Genesis 14:13-16).
Abram is made aware of Lot’s situation. What does he do? Remember, this is the guy who ran scared in Egypt, lying about his wife. This is the guy who had conflict with Lot over land for their flocks. But those things are not on Abram’s mind. Instead, he takes immediate action. The text seems to indicate that there was no hesitation on his part. He heard, he led forth his trained men, pursued the enemy, divided his men against them by night, defeated them, pursued them, and brought back all the lost possessions. Abram the shepherd has become Abram the military strategist and soldier. Two very real applications jump out at me:
- Sometimes genuine faith calls us to be passive and wait for God to work (such as in Abram’s handling of Lot in chapter 13). Other times God expects us to take action that is rooted in a genuine faith in His ability to act (chapter 14).
- Nothing—no power earthly or spiritual—can stand against the blessing and power of Yahweh. When we get a renewed vision of that fact, which clarifies our view of God, it brings a more accurate way of thinking and believing. This will root us in unshakeable faith when those times of testing come.
3. God’s people must have discernment because, even after coming through a trial victoriously, their faith will be tested (Genesis 14:17-24).
Abram wins! But it is at the height of the rush of victory that we must guard against becoming careless! The rest of the chapter contains the story of two kings. I will let you delve into the text in more detail on your own, but let me make a few observations.
Melchizedek comes out bringing a blessing to Abram. Melchizedek is an interesting character in scripture (study it out!), who is here described as priest of “El Elyon” or God Most High. He blesses Abram and acknowledges that Abram lives under the blessing of El Elyon. There are lots of kings on earth (the word is used 28 times in this chapter), but there is only one Most High King!
Melchizedek also blesses El Elyon, describing Him as the Possessor or Creator of heaven and earth. This God is the universal Creator and sovereign over all people. Man, if you struggle with a small view of God, you need to meditate on this blessing and description! Melchizedek knows the real source of Abram’s victories.
Contrast that with the king of Sodom—he brings nothing to Abram and certainly no blessing. The first words out of his mouth actually function as a command—“give me.” He actually makes Abram a fair offer (v. 21), but his heart is darkened with wickedness and ungratefulness. Note Abram’s response in verse 22-23. He won’t take anything from this king. Why? Abram wants no moral ambiguity. He knows that God wants to bless him, but he knows that this is not the way Yahweh will bring that blessing about. A crack has appeared in which Satan tries to create an opening to subtly snatch glory from God by tainting the situation with the enrichment of Abram by this pagan and wicked king.
Abram’s faith is growing. It is going to be tested again, and he will fall on his face again. Such is the Christian life and the struggle against the old way of living.
Four quick thoughts to take home:
- As Lot’s faith is passive and impotent (more on this later), Abram’s is growing stronger. Lot is becoming hardened to sin while Abram demonstrates total reliance on Yahweh. Which one most resembles your faith?
- Deeply rooted faith should drive us to act boldly and self-sacrificially in line with the will of God.
- Are you deeply concerned that God receives the glory that is due His name from your life? Don’t let Satan ever subtly steal that glory!
- God grants victory over those who threaten His promises. Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us that our battles are spiritual rather than physical, but the same principles apply.
Brian Dempsey is the Lead Pastor of Washington Baptist Church in Dillsboro, IN. Brian has degrees from Northland Baptist Bible College (BA), Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv) and is currently a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (DMin).